Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 21;   May 23, 2007: Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III

Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III

by

The phrase "You get what you measure," has acquired the status of "truism." Yet many measurement-based initiatives have produced disappointing results. Here's Part III of an examination of the idea — a look at management's role in these surprises.

Even when measurement precedes desired results, we sometimes wonder whether the measuring caused the outcome. We've already looked at our assumptions regarding measurement itself, and at the effects of employee behavior. But management actions also raise questions about measurement-based management. Here are four examples. See Part I, and Part II for more.

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge

One of the many problems contributing to cost overruns in the highway project known as Boston's "Big Dig" was a sequence of delays in determining the design of the Charles River Crossing. Once this decision-making overran its schedule, very serious problems developed later in the project, in both management and engineering and construction. As in the private sector, the early focus of scrutiny has been on the engineering and construction rather than on management, in part because we measure them more carefully. Pictured is the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in a later construction phase, as it emerges from the Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. Tunnel to cross the Charles River. This particular crossing is very near the one referred to as "two if by sea," in the poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," by Longfellow (1860). Photo courtesy Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

We tend to measure "them" rather than "us"
Measurements are relatively less likely to probe attributes of management processes than they are to probe attributes of other processes. For instance, the starting point for time-to-market measurements usually comes after the "fuzzy front end" — the part that includes concept formulation, final approval, and resource allocation — all management processes.
If we believe in the efficacy of measurement, we ought to apply it to management processes, too.
We tend not to measure the effectiveness of metrics-based management
The effectiveness of measurement depends on processes for selecting and designing metrics, collecting metrics data, analyzing it, and using the results to adjust processes. These activities are rarely measured themselves.
If metrics-based management works, it should work for the metrics approach itself. The rarity of attempts to measure the effectiveness of metrics-based management raises questions both about our commitment to the approach, and its validity.
Measurement fatigue
When people adapt to measurement, they find ways to limit the controlling effects of the measurement. The organization then returns to Square Two, which is just like Square One, except for the added burden of reporting (and evading the effects of) the metric. Typically, organizations respond by introducing another metric to "control" the evasion problem.
In this way, an organization acquires a steadily increasing burden of (mostly) ineffective metrology, which eases only with a reorg, or the arrival of a new high-level manager, or an acquisition, or clean-sheet re-engineering, or major downsizing or bankruptcy.
You can't always get what you want
Measurement doesn't help
much if employees are
unable to produce
the desired results
due to forces outside
their control
Even when we measure what we want to get, we might not be providing the resources needed to achieve it. Employees might simply be unable to produce the desired results, because of forces outside their control, physical laws, government laws and regulations, inadequate resources, deficits in skills or knowledge, toxic culture, wrong knowledge, ineffective management, or other factors.
For instance, producing tight-tolerance parts with worn-out, outdated equipment is unlikely to work, no matter what you measure. Altered employee behavior just isn't the answer, and no amount of measuring the output will "encourage" them to do well enough.

And so it appears that there are ample reasons to explain the disappointing results of measurement-based management. Perhaps more puzzling is why the practice persists, and why it's so widely used. Other intriguing questions: When is measurement useful? When does measurement have the effect we hope for? I'll leave these questions for another time. Go to top Top  Next issue: Snares at Work  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbreniLhzTXilUorYTELvner@ChacKkKleZYOoXVtvBUxoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Something from Abraham, from Mark and from HennyAbraham, Mark, and Henny
Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make things so complicated?
A rowboatFiguring Out What to Do First
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
A meetingHow to Make Meetings Worth Attending
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
Lewis and Clark on the Lower ColumbiaAstonishing Successes
When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A human marionetteComing November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
Desperation at workAnd on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEIxpjrmGGMtwZCBQner@ChacynmYAFnBeDToBTQeoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy new blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.